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What are the digital alternatives to using paper in the office and the benefits associated with them?

Digital Transformation-1

There are still a lot of business processes that rely on paper, for example, finance, operations and HR are all key departments that often rely on the use of paper-based processes.

In some cases, this can’t be helped as paper still serves as part of customer communications and it might be the customer that doesn’t want to digitise the comms. However, there are also a lot of other reasons that people choose to print, and it’s only by identifying these reasons that you can begin to look at ways to digitise them.

Digital Transformation-1

Why do people print?

There are six main reasons that people currently print and use paper:

1) To Store - people print paper so they can file it away. This might be part of a bigger process or it might be for compliance reasons, in which the company has to keep certain information and files on record for a number of years.

Printing to store is still a common reason for using paper and it’s not unusual to come across companies that have big rooms full of files, some of which never gets used or even looked at again, resulting in a lot of dark data.

2) To Annotate - this usually includes printing a document to then write on, highlight, cross bits out and just generally annotate. The question is, what do you do with it once you’ve annotated it? Scan it back in? Write the notes up? More often than not, the annotated version is thrown in the bin once done with.

3) To develop thinking - some people are visual thinkers, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it can end up using a lot of paper if you’re not careful.

4) To read - reading paper can sometimes be easier than reading a digital document. Books are still a big part of our culture and society, but unlike many business documents, books don’t go in the bin when we’ve finished reading them.

5) Printing for others - sometimes we print for other people. This might be to send in the post or it might be to get a wet-ink signature. Printing for others is usually also a collaboration technique, whether it be for a meeting agenda or to actively annotate and discuss.

6) Writing notes for others - similar to the above, some people like to print a document, annotate it themselves and then share it with someone else.

To add to these 6 reasons that people print is the fact that it’s just built into a process and has become a habit. This isn’t so much a reason for printing a document but it is a reason that people print and use paper.

What are the digital alternatives to using paper?

Unfortunately, just telling people to stop printing and then removing the printers isn’t going to go down well. And besides, printing rightly still has a place in business, and reducing paper usage and digitisation could be seen as ideas for aligning with business objectives and bringing more value to the business.

Let’s revisit the reasons people print, but this time, we’ll consider the digital alternatives and the benefits they bring:

To Store  - Secure cloud storage that allows backup copies.

Annotate - Many word processes allow comments and tracked editing to annotate documents. If you really like the handwriting effect, there are tablets on the market that you can use a stylus/digital pen for handwriting.

Develop thinking - Using document programs, presentation programs and even just notes tools, there are plenty of ways to develop thinking and store ideas.

Read - This is actually one of the trickier things to digitise as some people just prefer reading a physical paper copy. The digital alternatives are there; tablets, e-readers, computers etc. but this is more of a culture change and finding a solution that's suitable for all.

Print for others (collaboration, signing) - Digital documents can easily be shared via email and even signed using many programs and apps. Collaborative working on live documents is also possible with tracked changes and amends.

Notes for others - As with the above, there are plenty of options that allow notes, comments and collaboration on a digital document.

What are the benefits to using digital alternatives?

1) Data Volume

By digitising business processes, documents, data and information can be stored digitally in the cloud, making it easy to access, search for and share. It can also help clear up dark data.

2) Efficiency

By digitising and automating the processes, time can be saved and spent on higher-value tasks. The process is also made much more efficient as even when errors occur, they are much quicker to find and fix.

3) Cost savings

By removing printing from your main business processes, it’s possible to reduce costs. Cost savings can also be gained from improved efficiency.

4) Customer service

Although not a direct impact, working smarter and faster, you can provide a better service for customers.

When a customer calls, searching for a paper customer file or old invoice can take time and annoy the customer but accessing the files digitally can be quick and easy and keeps the customer happy.

Also, by lowering your back-end printing and infrastructure costs, you free up funds and resources for front-of-house operations like marketing and customer service.

5) Competition

Prospective customers want to be assured that they’ll be working with suppliers who use innovation in all aspects of their business. Being digital makes a statement about your market leadership.

6) Security

By keeping data digital, you can have more control as to who has access to what and where it ends up. More importantly, you establish a full audit trail that shows your document’s chain of custody over its lifecycle.

7) Regulations

Digital processes can help you create audit trails that even allow you to see who’s edited a document and what the edit was. This can help to keep your company compliant with regulations and privacy legislation.

8) Sustainability and Waste

Around 50% of printed pages get thrown away. Using paper inevitably expands your carbon footprint and consumes more energy. Going digital means cutting out waste and going greener.

Although paper will exist in businesses for a long time to come, digitising some of the heavier paper processes can increase efficiency within your business as well as leading to time savings, better front-end customer experiences and in some cases cost savings.

Find out more about digitising heavy paper processes and the benefits it can bring here.